Robotic Process Automation (RPA): How to begin

When you bring up Robotic Process Automation, many employees still think "job loss." Here's what to know as you shape RPA plans - and deal with team fears
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Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is enjoying tremendous growth as organizations worldwide seek to accelerate productivity and boost efficiency by automating mundane and repetitive tasks. Yet despite its benefits, RPA continues to stir debates about replacement of the human workforce. When you bring up automation, it is not uncommon for employees to think “job loss.”

A significant number of organizations remain hesitant to adopt RPA within business or IT functions because employees worry that it will change their roles and responsibilities.

[ What's the difference between RPA and AI? Read: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) vs. AI, explained. ]

When implemented thoughtfully, however, RPA can reduce the costs associated with human talent doing work that could be automated, enabling workers to focus on more meaningful work.

Shape and evolve RPA the right way

RPA can reduce the costs associated with human talent doing work that could be automated, enabling workers to focus on more meaningful work.

Some organizations have already made significant investments in adopting unattended and attended RPA bots. Financial services and telecom are two industries that frequently leverage RPA across processes such as claims processing, policy servicing, and other customer-facing work.

Business operations and enterprise IT teams are also adopting RPA to automate repetitive tasks and processes. Typical use cases include processing sales data from core systems into Excel and presenting a finished report and, within IT service desks, automating the provisioning and de-provisioning of assets. In both instances, RPA frees employees from routine, low-value tasks.

[ How are  functions such as marketing, HR, and IT using RPA? Read also: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) moves beyond finance: 4 popular use cases. ]

Let’s look at three market trends that are set to accelerate RPA adoption:

1. Disruptive value

Enterprise leaders across all functional areas who have experimented with RPA are recognizing the value it offers. Additionally, RPA vendors are experiencing solid growth. The adoption of this disruptive technology is being driven by labor savings, reduction in errors, and decreased cycle times and process risks.

2. Artificial intelligence

Leveraging AI and the continuous development of processing increasingly complex data emulates human level-decision making. This enables faster decision-making and eliminates the potential for human bias. Some vendors are receiving funding to accelerate development in these areas.

3. Overcoming employee resistance

Digital workers and robots are essential to eliminate existing skill gaps while also improving the productivity and quality of work. One way to overcome resistance is to identify an initial path and start by automating small, highly manual processes. This will let you prove quick wins that build momentum with key stakeholders and employees. Most vendors offer free versions that allow for proofs-of-concept, and current, per-bot licensing models make it possible to invest into RPA one bot at the time.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

RPA training and team topologies matter

RPA technologies can reduce costs and improve efficiencies, but human talent will still have a role to play. Consider these two factors:

Training, services, and support will become more important over time. RPA does not interfere with existing systems of records or business applications and therefore does not require a lot of integration work. However, to leverage RPA software, individuals and teams must be trained so that deployment and implementation meet expectations.

Implementing RPA typically involves “citizen developers,” or individuals who are close to the enterprise’s operations and can determine the best use cases for RPA software. Citizen developers must be trained and equipped with skills and capabilities to implement successful RPA projects.

[ Want resources for RPA training? Check out 8 Robotic Process Automation (RPA) training and certification courses. ]

A Center of Excellence (COE) for Robotic Process Automation is an essential topology. Furthermore, citizen developers, IT oversight, security, mobile app development, other team members, and topic owners should assemble into COEs to accelerate innovation. This team should own the RPA lifecycle and ongoing expansion and maintenance.

[ How did Adobe CIO Cynthia Stoddard do it? Read also: Adobe CIO: How we scaled RPA with a Center of Excellence. ]

A COE can help prevent disconnects between IT teams and other business functions over issues such as security and governance. RPA control rooms or management consoles that support COEs are also necessary.

The productivity potential of RPA is too promising to ignore. The technology will continue to improve, but that doesn’t necessarily mean robots are taking away jobs. Ideally, these bots will allow CIOs to free up employees for more meaningful work that will advance their organization’s digital transformation efforts. Also, remind skeptics that many vendors offer free trials so you can experience RPA in action before committing.

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Eveline Oehrlich is an industry analyst, author, speaker and business advisor focused on digital transformation. Eveline is the Chief Research Director at DevOps Institute where she leads the research and analysis for the Upskilling: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report and other research projects.